First Pitch: A Look at the Results from Later Round Draft Picks Over the Years

Over the last three days, we have looked at the draft results since 1965 for the seventh, 31st and 44th overall picks in the MLB Amateur Draft. Those are the first three picks of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2020 draft, which will be held on June 10th. The results may have been a bit surprising to some.

The seventh overall pick group obviously had some great results, but it was also far from a guarantee that you’ll get an MLB player who contributes anything significant. The results drop off when you pick lower, that part is predictable, but the second thing we learned wasn’t completely expected. The 31st picks as a group are at best equal to the output of the 44th picks, and the success rate of getting players to the majors, along with getting decent MLB results after that first step, actually favored the 44th overall picks.

Today I wanted to take quick looks at each of the other three spots for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. This is more of a fun exercise, since there really isn’t a huge difference between the third and fourth rounds, or the fourth or fifth rounds. Most scouts will even group selections after the second round, labeling players as “potential 4th/5th round picks”. So looking at specific picks inside those groups gives you a general idea, but works better as a bigger group when you want a significant sample size. Meaning, it makes a lot more sense to see how fifth round picks work out as a group, rather than just looking at the 138th overall pick each year. Doing it the second way would take quite a bit of time, so that might have to wait for a different day.

Anyway, here are quick summaries of the results from the 79th, 108th and 138th overall picks since the start of the draft in 1965.

79th overall

The last five 79th overall picks are in the minors still, so we will look at the results from the first 50 years of picks here. The success rate for an MLB player is 40% (20 out of 50). The rate of getting a player with a positive WAR number drops to 22%. The top five players all-time at this spot are (with career WAR):

  1. John Olerud, 58.1
  2. DJ LeMahieu, 21.8
  3. Zack Cozart, 15.1
  4. Jordy Mercer, 6.6
  5. Dave Fleming, 5.3

Mercer is the only pick the Pirates have ever made 79th overall.

108th overall

Six 108th overall picks are still in the minors, so the results are from the first 49 years here. The success rate for an MLB player is 26.5% (13 out of 49). The rate of getting a player with a positive WAR drops to 12.2%. The top six player all-time at this spot are:

  1. Ricky Nolasco, 13.5
  2. Billy Koch, 5.4
  3. Cameron Rupp, 2.9
  4. Lenny Harris, 1.7
  5. Brandon Hicks, 0.2
  6. Mark Woodyard, 0.2

The Pirates have selected 108th once, Steve Moser in 1986. He was recently (very briefly) mentioned in our 1987 Salem Buccaneers Prospect Throwback article.

138th overall

Six 138th overall picks are still in the minors, so the results are from the first 49 years here. The success rate for an MLB player is 38.8% (19 out of 49). The rate of getting a player with a positive WAR drops to 20.4%. The top five player all-time at this spot are:

  1. Bill Doran, 32.9
  2. Alvin Davis, 20.0
  3. Steve Ontiveras, 4.7
  4. Cory Gearrin, 3.8
  5. Barry Jones, 1.6

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 138th overall picks have been much better than 108th picks. More get to the majors, more have positive MLB impacts, and the top players are better. The Pirates have one of the MLB players (Brett Gideon, -0.3 WAR, 1985) and one of the misses (Mark Thomas, 1987).





By John Dreker

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade from the 1950’s.

Brad Lincoln, pitcher for the 2010-12 Pirates. Lincoln was a first round pick in 2006, who dealt with some injuries coming up through the minors. He made the Pirates in 2010 and posted a 6.66 ERA in 52.2 innings, with nine starts and two relief appearances. In 2011, he made eight starts and four relief appearances, posting a 4.72 ERA in 47.2 innings (no misprint, just a coincidence). He was mostly pitching in relief in 2012 when he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Travis Snider. Lincoln had a 2.73 ERA with the Pirates and 5.65 with the Blue Jays. He played for Toronto in 2013, the Phillies in 2014 and signed with the Pirates for 2015, but was released without appearing in the majors. In five MLB seasons, he was 9-11, 4.74 in 222.1 innings.

Randall Simon, first baseman for the 2003-04 Pirates. He is one of 15 players born in Curacao to make it to the majors. The Braves signed him out of his home country in 1992. Five years later, at the age of twenty-two, Randall made his big league debut. He saw limited time during his first two major league trials until the Braves gave him a chance to play regularly 1999, when he got into 90 games and hit .317 with five homers and 25 RBIs. He also stole two bases that year, the only stolen bases of his eight year major league career. Despite the strong average, he spent the entire 2000 season in the minors. That calendar year, Simon was a member of four different organizations, starting the year with the Braves, who released him at the end of Spring Training. He signed with the Marlins for a month, then the Yankees, then in the off-season, signed with the Tigers. Simon batted over .300 in both of his seasons in Detroit. His 2002 season was the best of his career, as he hit .301 with 19 homers and 82 RBIs.

The Pirates acquired him in November of 2002 in exchange for two minor league pitchers. In 2003, Randall hit .274 with ten homers and 54 RBIs through 91 games for the Pirates before they traded him to the Cubs in August for Ray Sadler. Simon became a free agent at the end of the season and signed with the Pirates in February of 2004. He started the season off slow before missing a month with hamstring strain, then came back and hovered around .200 until the Pirates sent him to Triple-A. He was released in August, signing with the Devil Rays to finish the season. After 2004, his only Major League experience came with the 2006 Phillies, where he was used strictly as a pinch-hitter in 23 games. He played in the minors until 2010.

Will Pennyfeather, outfielder for the 1992-1994 Pirates. He had a 19-year career in pro ball despite going undrafted. He signed with the Pirates in 1988, playing 33 games in rookie ball that year. He looked to be a long shot at ever reaching the majors after his second season in the minors, hitting .190 in 75 games of short-season A-ball. Even in his first year of full-season ball, his overall numbers were not impressive, led by a .635 OPS in 122 games. Pennyfeather was moved to high-A in 1991, and although his stats were better, they were still far from strong, due to a very low walk rate and limited power. He seemed to put everything together out of nowhere in Double-A in 1992, hitting .337 through 51 games, earning a brief promotion to the majors at the end of June. In his first big league at-bat, he collected a bunt single off of John Wetteland. Pennyfeather was soon sent to Triple-A, coming back again for a short stay in early August, then as a September call-up. He began to show a little power in Triple-A in 1993, although the walks were still low and he had trouble stealing bases when he did get on, getting thrown out 12 times in 22 attempts. He came up for a month, beginning in mid-June and played a career high 21 games, hitting .206 with two RBIs. He made the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1994, but was used just three times as a pinch-hitter and once as a pinch-runner, before being sent to the minors, ending his Major League career. He was picked up off waivers by the Reds in May of 1994, then spent the next twelve years playing both affiliated and independent ball before retiring in 2006.

Jim Marshall, first baseman for the 1962 Pirates. He signed with the White Sox as a 19-year-old in 1950 and it took him eight seasons to make it to the majors, finally getting there for Opening Day with the 1958 Orioles. Marshall hit .215 through 85 games with the Orioles before they put him on waivers, where he was picked up by the Cubs. He had his best Major League season in 1959 for Chicago, hitting .252 with 11 homers and 40 RBIs in 108 games. Marshall was traded to the Giants in 1960, where he hit .234 with three homers and 20 RBIs over limited time during his two seasons there. He was sold to the expansion Mets, shortly after the end of the 1961 season. With New York, he had an amazing stretch at the plate, especially compared to the rest of his career. Through 17 games, he hit .344 with three homers. The Pirates acquired him on May 7, 1962 in exchange for pitcher Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell. Marshall played 55 games for Pittsburgh, getting twenty starts at first base. He hit .220 with 12 RBIs in 100 at-bats. After being released by the Pirates that October he signed to play in Japan, spending three years overseas before retiring.

John Hofford, pitcher for the 1885-86 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He began his pro career in 1884, and by 1885 he was a well sought after pitcher, after posting a 38-13 record with 389 strikeouts for Augusta of the Southern League. Hofford completed all 50 starts he made that year, throwing eight shutouts. He joined the Alleghenys during the last week of that 1885 season, starting three of the last five games. He lost all three, although two of the games came against Bobby Mathews, a 297-game winner in the majors. In 1886, he was with Pittsburgh for most of the season, but made just nine starts all year. He went 3-6 with 4.33 ERA, playing his last Major League game on July 24th. He stuck around minor league baseball for another ten years before retiring, playing regularly at almost every position at some point in his career. His career minor league stats are far from being completely researched at this point, but the known stats show that after winning 38 games in 1885, he won just eight games over five more seasons of pitching.

The Trade

On this date in 1954, the Pirates traded outfielder Cal Abrams to the Baltimore Orioles for pitcher Dick Littlefield. The lefty throwing Littlefield was 28 years old at the time of the trade. He was in his fifth season in the majors and the Orioles were his fourth major league team already, all American League clubs. He got off to a poor start in 1954, allowing seven runs and 14 base runners over just six innings in his three relief outings. In 1953, he had a 7-12. 5.08 record in 36 games, 22 as a starter. Abrams was 30 years old, and in his sixth season in the majors. His first year with the Pirates in 1953 was his best season up to that point. He batted .286 with 15 homers and 66 runs scored in 119 games. In 1954, he was batting just .143 through 17 games with the Pirates.

After the deal, Abrams had a strong season in Baltimore, hitting .293 with 73 walks and 66 runs scored in 115 games. He maintained a strong walk rate the following year, but his average was down to .243 and he hit just six homers in 118 games. He was traded to the White Sox for 1955, playing four games there before finishing his career in the minors. Littlefield pitched well for a Pirates team that lost 101 games in 1954. He went 10-11, 3.60 in 21 starts and two relief appearances. The Pirates were nearly as bad the next season and Littlefield struggled on the mound, going 5-12, 5.12 in 130 innings. A month into the 1956 seasons, he was dealt to the Cardinals in a trade that brought Bill Virdon to Pittsburgh.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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